Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Caravan to Cuba with Pastors for Peace...or maybe just stay home and listen to elevator music?

The Revolutionary Challenge I issued myself was to protest the U.S. government for confiscating alms a religious group was donating to a 3rd World nation.

Thirty-two computers bound for Cuba with the Pastors for Peace delegation didn't make it across the U.S./Mexico border. P for P did not bother to apply for a license for the tons of aid they're toting, thinking that in the United States the separation of church and state clause should rule out the government dictating to a religious group whom could receive their charitable donations.

On July 3, most of the donations crossed with the caravanistas, but U.S. Customs and Border Protection agents seized the 32 computers intended for Cuban schools. In past years, thanks to citizen pressure, they've relented and released seized aid. "So," thinks I, "it'll be interesting to make that toll-free call and complain."
First, the run-around. The Office of Foreign Asset Control, a subsidiary of the Department of Treasury, told me that they were not the bad guys here. A young, monotone male curtly explained that while they write the policy, the Customs & Border Protection guys enforce it. I could find their phone number on the internet, he said, "Look under Homeland Security," he directed. So helpful.

Now I'm on a mission.
U.S. C&BP wouldn't take my call or accept a message on the first attempt to their customer service number [877-227(CBP--cute, huh?)-5511]. That's strike 2 in this ballgame.
But I persevered, connected and navigated the touch tone menu. "There are currently 17 calls ahead of you," the electronic voice intoned at 2:05 PM. A lengthy recording delineating passport requirements for U.S. and Canadian citizens/residents cycled by me several times, mercifully interrupting the elevator music with some content.

When my turn came around at 2:30PM the agent who took my call spoke heavily accented English. I explained my purpose. He was confused. He explained that he didn't have anything to do with this situation. He was in an office in Washington DC. I should call McAllen TX directly. He'd get me the number. He can't find it. Can I wait on 'hold' while he gets it?

Five minutes pass. He's back. "I can't find that number. We have a person who worked there in McAllen, but he isn't here today. I'm going to put you back on hold while we find it, OK?" Sure.
Finally he came back with a number [956-523-7300] in Larado TX. That's the office in charge, he assured me. Unexpectedly, he began to show an interest in the situation, asking me for more info. He suggested that the computers were singled out because "since 2001 they've been more sensitive to computers and the information on them." It's still hard for me to understand him, but he seems like a real guy. He put me on hold again--I went on and off "hold" several times. He returns and asks for my name. I gulp. I give it. He offers more info on seizures, something about a 15 day holding period. I don't care. I've gotta get to work at the neighborhood pantry. Who knew the call would take 50 minutes?

I thank him for his efforts. Modestly, he replies, " No, that's OK. That's what I'm here for. I get paid by the time (sic)."
Sigh. "Yeah, I know," I think, "because I'm paying you."
For more info on the Pastors for Peace Cuba caravan, you can watch this 8 minute video and see a first-hand account:

The Caravan is currently enroute to Cuba. Wish I were there.


D.K. Raed said...

See now, this is what ONE determined woman can do! You perservered and seemed to have finally found the right number. What a run around, though! AND now I'm also wondering about the helpful guy ... 50-minutes to get a phone number!?!

Sorry I've been AWOL. I need to catch up, but it might be next week. OK, I'm watching the vid now. Keep up the great blogging! You are pointing out things we all need to hear about, but you know what with our stupid 24/7 "news" being consumed with hesaid-noHEsaid, our heads are being filled with meaningless nonsense...

Border Explorer said...

D.K., thanks for your encouraging comment. That means a lot to me.

Ha, recent bumper sticker: Never underestimate the power of a pissed-off woman. Yep, it's good to channel that anger...lots of energy there to move things along toward justice.

The video is really accurate as to what a Cuba caravan is like, at least what you could say about it in only 8 minutes. Glad you took time to watch it.

I don't watch much TV news at all any more. I learn more on Blogger & other internet sites, I think. Mr. B.E. just finished Tom Fenton's Bad News on "the decline of reporting, the business of news, and the danger to us all." It explicated what my instincts tell me re. TV news. Not good, I'm afraid.

betonomiteben said...

My wife Dana, a librarian, is on the current caravan. We donated, along with other, a bookmobile and 2 tons of books. Dana made it through, but I got an email about the confiscation of the computers. I too has the same problems with the authorities. I finally got hold of Belinda in Laredo, 956-523-7353, who was somewhat helpful. A David Gonzales in I think Hidalgo, TX called me back saying that I had to ask all my questions via the Freedom of Information Act, but I have to find out more from him about this. I also contacted my Senators Boxer and Feinstein and my Congressperson, Drier, but haven't hear anything back from them yet except to say that they are working on it. The Pastors for Peace is coming back on Monday, I believe, the 14th of July, and hopefully will get the computers back for another try next year. Keep up the good work, best regards, Ben White

betonomiteben said...

I went through the same BS with the waiting and getting referred to other departments etc while trying to find out about the confiscated computers. At one point I was told that the computers were detained, not confiscated, but not told the difference in terms. Also, I asked, when told I couldn't be given the information I requested because I didn't own the confiscated computers, by what law or rule they were operating to deny this information, I got no answer. My wife Dana, and I and several otheres donated a bookmobile and 2 tons of books to Cuba, and Dana, will be back on the 15th with stories I am sure. Keep up the good work!!!

Border Explorer said...

Ben, I respect the work you and Dana did for the caravan. Thanks so much for commenting here. It really encourages me to keep calling. I'll use the number you suggest. I also can call my senators. Might as well complain to someone who can do something instead of just whining here on the blog.

Have a great re-union with Dana; hope they get back safely and with minimum hassle on the return.